"But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."

(Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)

The Wind Among the Reeds, 1899

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W.B. Yeats (June 13, 1865 – January 28, 1939) was an Irish poet and playwright. His is widely considered one of the most important writers of the 20th century. Some of his most notable works include The Tower (1928) and The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), as well as the plays The Land of Heart's Desire (1894) and Deirdre (1907). He was a founder of the Irish National Theatre Society and the Abbey Theatre. He served two terms in the Irish Senate later in his life.

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William Butler Yeats was born in Dublin to John Butler Yeats and Susan Mary Pollexfen. His father as a lawyer and portrait painter. He was educated at home when he was young and later attended school in London and in Dublin. His family was highly involved in the arts and in civil society. He went on to attend the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin, intending to become a painter.

In 1887, he became a literary correspondent for two American newspapers. During this period, he was introduced to the likes of William Morris, George Bernard Shaw, and Oscar Wilde. (Image source)

In 1889, Yeats met the most important female influence in his life, Maud Gonne. She was an Irish Nationalist and very politically active. He proposed to her several times only to be repeatedly rejected. She appears in many of his poems as Helen of Troy.

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Maud Gonne

Also in 1889, Yeats published his first book of poems, Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems. It was in this collection that he began to introduce heroes of Irish folklore into his work. Soon he would publish The Countess Cathleen (1892) and The Celtic Twilight (1893), which both dealt with Irish history and themes.

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In 1902, Yeats came together with Maud Gonne, Douglas Hyde, and George Russell to form the Irish National Theatre Society. He became the Society's main playwright. Some of his best known plays include The Countess Cathleen (1892), The Land of Heart's Desire (1894), Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), The King's Threshold (1904), and Deirdre (1907). His early plays were geared toward mysticism, often with reference to Irish legend; later, his work became more static and esoteric.

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In 1916, Yeats again proposed to Gonne after her husband—and his rival—John MacBride, was executed for his role in the 1916 Easter Rising. After she rejected him again, he proposed to her daughter. Following that rejection, he proposed to and married 25-year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees. The marriage resulted in two children.

 

Yeats was a great friend and deeply influenced by American expatriate poet Ezra Pound.

In 1922, Yeats was appointed to the Irish Senate. One of his defining moments in politics came when the debate over divorce arose. Yeats viewed the issue as a confrontation between Protestants and Catholics. He stood up in favor of allowing people to divorce.

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When Yeats won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923, he used the opportunity to highlight Ireland's new role in Europe after gaining independence. In letters responding to congratulatory letters he received, he wrote: "I consider that this honour has come to me less as an individual than as a representative of Irish literature, it is part of Europe's welcome to the Free State."

Some of his most important volumes of poems are The Wild Swans at Coole (1919), Michael Robartes and the Dancer (1921), The Tower (1928), The Winding Stair and Other Poems (1933), and Last Poems and Plays (1940).

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Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Friday, 13 June 2014
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